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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

io                              THE GAY GENIUS

sturdy integrity, and what no man could confer upon him was his
popular fame. In his lifetime he had no consideration for his own
good, and posterity gave him his fair due after his death. So today
everyone continues to speak of the scholar of Yuanyu, and every
home possesses a copy of the works of Meishan, Three times over
we have read his bequeathed works, and for a long time we have
admired his high principles. We regret not being born at the same
time with him in order to make full use of his talents as a counsellor
of kings, but from generation to generation, the superior man's teach-
ings ever grow from obscurity to popular acceptance.

We wish that your spirit could rise from the underground springs,
so that the world might pay homage to your fame, and we pray that
your talented soul will accept our Imperial favour. Su Shih is here-
by specially given the title of Grand Imperial Tutor. His other titles
may be kept as before.

Su Tungpo's peculiar position in China's history was, therefore, based
on his courageous stand for his principles and opinions, as well as upon
the charm of his poems and prose. His character and principles con-
stitute the "bones" of his fame, while the charm of style and language
forms the "flesh and skin" that embody the beauty of his spirit. I do
not think that we can, at heart, admire a writer lacking in integrity,
however brilliant and charming his writings may be. The imperial
preface to Su's Collected Worlds emphasises the greatness of his "spirit",
which distinguishes his works from mere "fine writing" and gives
solidity to his fame.

But let us not forget that Su was principally a poet and writer. On
this his reputation rests. His writings have a quality that is difficult to
explain, much less feel in translation. A classic becomes a classic because
the people in all ages recognise "good writing" as such. Ultimately,
lasting fame in literature rests on the pleasure the writing gives to the
readers, and who shall say in what way a reader is pleased? What
separates literature from ordinary writing is the charm of sound and
sense and manner which pleases the spirit. That a classic pleases all
men in all ages and survives temporary literary fashions must come of
a quality that we may call genuineness, like that of precious gems which
survive all tests. "Literature is like genuine gold and good jade," Su
wrote to Shieh Minshih. "They have an intrinsic value independent of
fluctuating prices."

Yet what is that "genuineness" which accounts for its quality of wear-
ing well? Su expressed his opinion on writing and style as clearly as
anyone ever put it. "Roughly, [good writing] is like the sailing of
clouds or flowing of water, moving forward where it is natural to move